The Difference Between Abuse & Neglect

As the FBI and state Department of Justice (DOJ) continue to investigate what appears to be rampant child abuse at the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls juvenile correctional facilities in Irma, Wisconsin, I have noted repeated excuses raised by union leaders and some staff for the abuse of these  incarcerated juveniles. These excuses range from blaming Wisconsin’s now infamous Act 10 for breaking children’s wrists, arms and causing serious foot injuries, to suggesting that introduction of methods of highly regarded trauma informed care, are to blame.

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Sadly, thus far, the media, union leaders and politicians generally seem more interested in the blame game, rather than examining the real consequences on these troubled youths when they suffer abuse and neglect at the hands of those who have the responsibility to keep them safe. While it is certainly appropriate to determine who is responsible and exact the appropriate punishment, that is exactly why the FBI and DOJ are continuing their investigation. It is certainly my hope and expectation that when their investigation is concluded, the appropriate people will be prosecuted and punished.

However, my experience as an attorney who has litigated abuse and neglect cases against a wide variety of care providers for nearly 30 years, I know that it is important to pay attention to the difference between abuse and neglect. Put simply: abuse is intentional and can never be excused by understaffing or other poor working conditions.While I fully support appropriate staffing levels and well trained and supported staff, the lack of these things can never justify breaking the bones of incarcerated youth.

Neglect, on the other hand, can easily occur when there are staffing shortages or poorly trained staff. If there are not enough staff to check on the physical and emotional health of incarcerated youth, then their health can deteriorate and they may harm each other due to insufficient supervision. Similarly, if staff are poorly trained, they may not have the knowledge of how to de-escalate dangerous situations, which may in turn, result in injuries.

In general, neglect is ultimately the responsibility of those who determine staffing levels and training, i.e., supervisors. On the other hand, as stated previously, responsibility for abuse lies with the abuser. Once the FBI and DOJ have concluded their investigation, prosecutions should take place with the understanding of the difference between abuse and neglect to make sure that those responsible for each category of harm are held accountable.

In addition, what must never be forgotten is that children have been abused and neglected under state supervision. These children must be compensated for the harm that was done to them.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

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Refugee Stories: Giving & Receiving

In the past week, I have enjoyed 2 recent interactions with refugees who immigrated to Madison that reminded me how important it is to assist new refugees and how eager they are to give back to their host country.

In the first situation, I was contacted by my old friend Andy Heidt, a former City of Madison Alder, who now runs the Bayview Foundation. As set forth on its website:

The Bayview Foundation’s guiding purpose is to facilitate families as they meet their needs, realize their dreams and make contributions to the community. Together, Bayview Foundation and Bayview Townhouse residents created a people proven model of successful, dynamic cooperation that works. The mission of Bayview Foundation is to provide housing, human service, arts appreciation and cultural awareness.

Andy put out a call seeking a lawyer to provide pro bono assistance for a Hmong immigrant mother and daughter because the daughter’s citizenship papers mistakenly listed her year of birth 4 years early which was causing problems with age related issues such as school enrollment. Working with a translator, I drafted an affidavit for her mother to sign in order to verify her daughter’s actual date of birth. After she signed the affidavit and expressed her thanks to me, Andy proceeded to give me a tour of Bayview’s affordable housing where many Hmong immigrants live. I am glad to see that Andy is continuing the good work he has done for many years and was pleased to help out one of his residents in my own small way.

A few days later, my wife and I were on the receiving end of assistance from a Laotian refugee who has become our friend.  Thongpone owns Sala Thaia lovely local restaurant that my wife and I have enjoyed eating at for many years. Mutual friends live just a few doors down from the restaurant and introduced us to Thongpone a few years ago. When Thongpone heard from our friend that my wife was home recuperating from a recent surgery, she volunteered to bring over some Laotian & Thai comfort food for lunch. Her gracious generosity was greatly appreciated by both my wife and I. As we sat together eating her delicious food, we marveled as she shared the story  of her amazing journey from Laos to a refugee camp in Thailand which led to her eventually becoming a successful and generous restauranteur, and now our friend, in Madison.

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As the Vietnam war was winding down, Thongpone fled an unstable Laos and sought refuge in a Thai refugee camp where life was very difficult. When she was eventually approved to immigrate to the United States, the original plan was to place her in Montana, where she knew no one. Fortunately, however, while in the refugee camp, she had met the owner of another lovely Madison restaurant, Lao Laan-Xangwho agreed to sponsor her in Madison.

That’s what refugees do. They help each other. That’s what good people do. We help each other. Our nation, our community, our neighborhoods are all made great when we help each other. I was fortunate to be on both the giving and receiving end in the past week and I look forward to many more opportunities in the future to give and receive both to and from former, current and future refugees, whom I welcome into my life. Together, we are stronger.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Education Progress? A Deeper Look

Recently, I received a copy of the Madison Metropolitan School District’s 1st Quarterly Review of its Strategic Framework. It is addressed to the Madison Community and opens as follows:

We are pleased to present our 1st quarterly review of progress for the 2015-16 school year. Our school district is on a mission to close the gaps in opportunity that lead to disparities in achievement and to ensure that every child graduates ready for college, career, and community.

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However, as I read the review, I noted that it focused exclusively on African-American students and contained very little data, none of which appeared to be from the 2015-16 school year. While I fully support the need for Madison to close the educational achievement gaps for its African-American students, this cannot be done successfully by touting limited and misleading data. Moreover, my long career in educational advocacy has taught me that educational progress for one group of students cannot be achieved in isolation from the rest of the school district. Rather, educational progress must be premised in articulating clear achievable goals, providing necessary support and training to staff and students to achieve those goals and holding administrators accountable when goals are not met.

Thus, when I examined MMSD’s progress in its Strategic Framework from the 2013-14 to this 2014-15 school year, I was troubled to discover that the progress is not nearly as rosy as the district’s 1st Quarter Review suggests.

Here are some key pieces of data that the district does not reveal in its 1st Quarter Review.

District-wide Progress

  • Grade 3: Math Proficiency 45% (up 2% from the prior year)
  • Grade 3: Reading Proficiency 37% (down 1% from the prior year)
  • Grade 5: Math Proficiency 48% (up 6% from the prior year)
  • Grade 5: Reading Proficiency 44% (up 4% from the prior year)
  • Grade 8: Math Proficiency 42% (up 1% from the prior year)
  • Grade 8: Reading Proficiency 39% (down 1% from the prior year)
  • Grade 9: 2 or more Fs 20% (down 1% from the prior year)
  • Grade 11: 3.0 GPA 48% (down 2% from the prior year)
  • High School Completion Rate: 79% (up 1% from the prior year)

African-American Students (click on link and manually change group)

  • Grade 3: Math Proficiency 16% (up 4% from the prior year)
  • Grade 3: Reading Proficiency 13% (up 5% from the prior year)
  • Grade 5: Math Proficiency 12% (up 1% from the prior year)
  • Grade 5: Reading Proficiency 15% (up 5% from the prior year)
  • Grade 8: Math Proficiency 7% (down 1% from the prior year)
  • Grade 8: Reading Proficiency 9% (up 3% from the prior year)
  • Grade 9: 2 or more Fs 47% (up 3% from the prior year)
  • Grade 11: 3.0 GPA 13% (no change from the prior year)
  • High School Completion Rate: 56% (up 2% from the prior year)

Hispanic Students (click on link and manually change group)

  • Grade 3: Math Proficiency 26% (up 6% from the prior year)
  • Grade 3: Reading Proficiency 20% (up 5% from the prior year)
  • Grade 5: Math Proficiency 25% (up 6% from the prior year)
  • Grade 5: Reading Proficiency 18% (down 1% from the prior year)
  • Grade 8: Math Proficiency 21% (up 3% from the prior year)
  • Grade 8: Reading Proficiency 18% (up 2% from the prior year)
  • Grade 9: 2 or more Fs 30% (down 8% from the prior year)
  • Grade 11: 3.0 GPA 35% (up 9% from the prior year)
  • High School Completion Rate: 70% (no change from the prior year)

Students in Special Education (click on link and manually change group)

  • Grade 3: Math Proficiency 20% (up 2% from the prior year)
  • Grade 3: Reading Proficiency 13% (up 4% from the prior year)
  • Grade 5: Math Proficiency 13% (down 4% from the prior year)
  • Grade 5: Reading Proficiency 11% (down 6% from the prior year)
  • Grade 8: Math Proficiency 12% (no change from the prior year)
  • Grade 8: Reading Proficiency 10% (down 3% from the prior year)
  • Grade 9: 2 or more Fs 38% (down 1% from the prior year)
  • Grade 11: 3.0 GPA 18% (up 3% from the prior year)
  • High School Completion Rate: 50% (up 3% from the prior year)

As you can see, the results are mixed and though there is some progress from some students, in many ways the results are very troubling. To be clear, I am a strong supporter of our public schools and will continue my many years of advocacy to make sure they receive the support and funding they need to provide a high quality education to all of our children.

However, it does not help to provide limited data to the public to create a perception that more progress is being made than is actually the case. That is why I have provided this deeper look.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

We are all Muslims

While many have weighed in on the racist xenophobia spewed by Donald Trump’s call for registering American Muslims and keeping Muslim visitors and refugees out of our country we know as the land of the free and the home of the brave, we must also face the very scary question of what each and every American would do if this very dangerous fascist actually became the President of the United States.

At times like these, each of us must decide whether we will allow racism and xenophobia to divide friends, neighbors and fellow citizens, or whether we will choose to fight back and unite against fascism.

Recently, Israel honored a non-Jewish American soldier for his bravery in saving other Jewish prisoners during World War 2. As reported by the Jerusalem Post:

An American non-commissioned officer who defied the Nazis while in captivity by refusing to identify Jewish POWs was posthumously honored with the title of Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem on Wednesday.

The title, granted after extensive research and corroboration, is intended to honor those who risked their own lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust.

Captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge, Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds of the US 422nd Infantry Regiment was the senior officer in the American section of the Stalag IXA prisoner of war camp.

When Nazi guards demanded all Jewish prisoners report the following morning, in a move reminiscent of the movie Spartacus, Edmonds instructed all soldier inmates in the camp to show up alongside their Jewish comrades.

When camp commandant Major Siegmann saw the entire American contingent standing and identifying as Jews he exclaimed, “they cannot all be Jews,” and Edmonds replied, “we are all Jews.”

Siegmann then drew his pistol on Edmonds, who coolly responded that “according to the Geneva Convention, we only have to give our name, rank and serial number. If you shoot me, you will have to shoot all of us, and after the war you will be tried for war crimes.”

Outfaced by Edmonds, the commandant turned and walked away.

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Edmonds was not Jewish. But to combat the Nazi persecution of the Jewish people, he declared himself and all of his fellow soldiers Jewish.

I am not Muslim, but if Trump is elected as the next President of the United States and he starts registering American Muslims, I will do as Sgt. Edmonds did. I will stand with my Muslim friends, neighbors and fellow Americans, and declare myself to be Muslim.

Our country will not become safer through hate and xenophobia. It will become safer by expanding the compassion footprint  as the wise Muslim author Dahlia Mogahed co-author of, Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think, speaks about. When I heard her speak in Madison some time ago, she explained that just like global warming cannot be stopped merely by each of us taking small actions, but indeed, requires systemic reform of the way we produce power and energy in our world, the social ills of our world, cannot be completely solved by small individual acts of compassion. However, this does not render those acts of compassion useless or unnecessary. Rather, those individual acts of compassion can help build a movement to demand systemic change in the way our society approaches social ills such as poverty, inadequate education and discrimination.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

 

Our Gun Sick Nation

Another mass shooting.

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Does the motive even matter anymore?

As the saying goes,

Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.

During the busiest shopping day of the year, the FBI ran a record 185,345 background checks on so called Black Friday, about 5 percent more than the amount processed on the same day last year. However, as the New York Times reports,

But since about 40 percent of all gun sales are through unlicensed sellers, that figure probably underestimated how many firearms actually changed hands, said Jon Vernick, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.

I have written other gun control posts about repealing the 2nd Amendment and establishing a bullet tax. Our political leadership remains cowed by the NRA and refuses to do anything meaningful while innocents die and politicians blame each other rather than doing anything constructive to solve the problem.

Maybe writing another blog is just my own personal way of coping with our nation’s infatuation with mass murder. But maybe, by acknowledging that we are a gun sick nation, we can begin to look for a cure. And let’s be honest, the only real cure is to disarm our nation. There will always be people who want to hurt other people. But only in the United States of America do we make it all too easy to give those people the weapons to wreak mass murder.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.